Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh and its predecessor Arjun Reddy are in news again, but this time fortunately for the right reason. During a roundtable organised by Film Companion, actor Parvathy neatly spelled out what exactly was wrong with these films which went on to be blockbusters. Parvathy said that films like Kabir Singh tend to spoon-feed the audience that misogynistic behaviour is normal. For someone who has been deeply unsettled by this toxic franchise, which is being fast adapted to almost all regional languages due to its popularity and ofcourse the kind of numbers it has crunched at the box-office, Parvathy has earned one’s hat tip for simply speaking the truth. Cinema, making, and viewing comes with a certain responsibility, and while it is for entertainment largely, we cannot be romanticising intimate partner violence and toxic behaviour.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Parvathy has called out the glorification of misogyny in films like Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy.
  • Intimate partner violence and toxic behaviour cannot be glorified in the name of entertainment.
  • The number of people who applaud or defend such toxic portrayals of relationships is alarming and tell-tale sign of how cinema impacts our psyche.
  • A film should motivate a viewer to question social injustice and inappropriate behaviour and not normalise them.

When a man is being misogynistic and abusive and you show that in a way that incites applause in the audience, then that’s glorification. – Parvathy Thiruvothu

At the round table discussion, which featured actors like Ayushmann Khurrana, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Manoj Bajpayee, Vijay Sethupathi and Vijay Deverakonda (the actor who played titular role in Arjun Reddy) the conversation veered towards Kabir Singh, which was expected, considering the amount of buzz and dialogue it has generated both on and off social media. Parvathy Thiruvothu called out the film for glorifying misogyny, saying, “When a man is being misogynistic and abusive and you show that in a way that incites applause in the audience, then that’s glorification.” Taking a dig at the Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh director Sandeep Reddy, who had justified the portrayal of intimate partner violence in his films and had received a lot of flak for his comments, Parvathy added, “We can watch a tragedy and leave it there without being inspired to follow it. (But) If you say that there is no passion in a relationship without slapping each other, and I see comments on YouTube where people are resonating and engaging with a wrong thing in a massive mob-like manner, you are inciting violence.”

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Parvathy has underlined the exact problem that most of us had with the film, and why we couldn’t just let it got. Even when labelled as entertainment, cinema needs to be responsible about the message it is sending across to the audience. We have seen how normalisation of acts like stalking and harassment leads the youth down a path of inappropriate behaviour. How romanticisation of obsessive one-sided love often misguides youngsters to feel entitled to love and attention of any person they fancy. Is it appropriate then, that a film portrays misogynist behaviour in such a way that the audience ends up rooting for it?  In an ideal world, cinema should be taken as a work of fiction. However, we do not live in an ideal world and films have a much deeper effect on our social and personal psyche than we would like to credit it for. Cinema both reflects who we are as people, and manipulates our thought process as well.

Even when labeled as entertainment, cinema needs to be responsible about the message it is sending across to the audience.

Even in the case of Kabir Singh, the film truly reflects the mind-set of all the people who cheered on as the leading actors slapped each other in the name of love. It also glamourises toxic behaviour for impressionable minds who may indeed assume that violence is must in an “honest” relationship. The fault doesn’t just lie with the films’ maker though, who is a clear product of a society where conversations regarding agency and consent are seen as tiring and “unromantic,” After all, millions bought his definition of love and passion. And that goes on to show why film makers have to be very careful of what they are putting out to the audience which still thinks violence among couples is okay and their “personal” matter. Films should motivate viewers to question inappropriate behaviour, and not normalise them and it is indeed possible to do without being preachy or boring. If only film makers would take the task to their hearts instead of letting popular demand tamper their craft.

Parvathy’s comments will hopefully diffuse the debate which Kabir Singh sparked. We need to draw a line somewhere because whether we like it or not, we have social responsibilities, both as movie makers and viewers.

Image Credit: YouTube screenshot

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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